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Moving Beyond Cultural Competency to Equity Literacy

The SSC Team May 14, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller Take a look at the people that make up your workplace. How diverse is the group? Are they inclusive people? How do they react when someone displays a certain bias? All of these aspects are important to any workplace, because not only can these signs be indicative of a business’s reputation, but it can also monitor the success of how well everyone within the organization works together. To help bring all of this to light, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities and Opportunity Lynchburg hosted a workshop to show examples of how to move beyond basic cultural competency in the workplace. By the end of the session, everyone walked out of the room equipped to help take their organization to the next level of equity literacy. It’s first important to note the difference in what separates cultural competence from equity literacy:
  • Cultural Competence – you are able to get along, understand, and interact with those from other cultures and socio-economic backgrounds; your actions are rooted within your best interest
  • Cultural Proficiency – you move beyond yourself and you have a deeper knowledge and grasp of those different cultures and backgrounds that surround you; your actions are not as self-serving
  • Equity Literacy – you dig below the surface to understand where the cultural differences stem from and take action to fix injustices; your actions indicate that you want to better the problem, because that is the right thing to do and not just for yourself
So how does one go from cultural competence to cultural proficiency to equity literacy in the workplace? Here are a few steps to help get you started in the right direction:
  1. Recognize biases and inequities as they come up; start to look for the ones that are subtle
  2. Respond to the biases and inequities when they are said; don't be afraid to point them out
  3. Redress the biases and inequities in the long term; acknowledge there is a problem and don't sweep it under the rug
  4. Create and Sustain a bias-free and equitable learning environment
Remember, this process takes time, and no one is going to achieve equity literacy overnight (as much as we would like to think that’s true…). Rather it’s a stepping stone to get you to the ultimate goal of equity literacy. Last fall SSC attended a workshop that focused on the business case for diversity. Read about it here.

Choosing Sustainability Management Software for Your Business

The SSC Team April 23, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

This article was written as an expansion of our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for your Business” published in July 2011.  If you’re looking for information on how to make your software selection, check out the full article.  If you just want to make sense of this particular topic, keep reading. Enjoy:

Now that you’ve decided to purchase sustainability software, an important related decision is whether or not you want to do the implementation work in-house or if you want to bring on a consultant to help out.  Making the right decision will be critical to your overall project success as well as impact the total cost of ownership for your solution.  And depending on your specific situation, either answer can be the right answer.  This article covers four key considerations:  Culture, Cost, Capabilities and Confidence.

Culture

Your business culture is an important first consideration.  Either you are consultant friendly or you prefer to do projects internally.  Making a decision that fits your culture and is consistent with your values will be important throughout the project.  That’s not to say that you might not go in the other direction for a specific project, or even choose a hybrid approach to delivery; just be true to yourself, as that will contribute to project morale for the entire team regardless of who signs their paycheck.  

A hybrid approach may provide the best of both cultures for you without offending the purists on either side.  Bring in specific subject matter expertise that you don’t already have in-house and then match it up with the right internal members of your Green Team to deliver the project.  On a high performing team, your consultants should be looking to train the internal employees on all the ins and outs of the system so that eventually your people can take over and run with the operational system. A good consultant instills confidence that they provide specialized expertise and trust that you will feel comfortable to call on them for further assistance in the future, instead of keeping them on the project unnecessarily for extended or prolonged periods of time.

Cost

After culture, cost is a major factor in the DIY vs. consultant decision.  For many firms – large or small – the preliminary inclination is to try and do the work internally.  The general premise is that it will be cheaper to use people that you already are paying because there is no additional cash out of pocket like there would be with an external consultant.  Consultants seemingly come with a high, upfront, fixed cost as your employee costs are already embedded in your budget.  Don’t forget to account for the “opportunity cost” of your internal employees – after all, they would be working on something else valuable for your firm if they weren’t picked for this project.

Beyond the opportunity cost consideration, looking only at the incremental expense doesn’t address an important aspect of choosing your own internal people to do the work: Do they actually have time?  Presumably, all of your existing employees have a “day job” that brings them to work every day.  Some of them are probably even doing two or three different jobs during a regular workday.  Determining if you actually have the available slack time within your existing team members is an important determination.  After all, if you’re on a deadline and your employees just can’t carve out enough time to meet that target, it may end up costing you more money to bring consultants in later than it would have if you had engaged them at the start of your project.  If you engage them in the beginning, the consultants are competing for your business; if you wait to bring them in until later in the project, they know you are hiring them to help bail you out so the leverage has shifted into their favor.

A final cost consideration when hiring a consultant (or going the “cheaper” internal route) is that “you get what you pay for.”  This can be taken as advice that the lowest cost doesn’t always provide you with the best result – nor for that matter does the highest cost.  Just make sure that the cost is right for the work being performed and for your situation.  That brings me to the second aspect of “you get what you pay for” – which is to MAKE SURE you get what you paid for.  Pay your consultant based on their delivery of the results you are looking for on the project, not just because they send you an invoice.  If possible, get a consultant to sign up for a risk-reward component to their payment so that they will be incentivized to do a better job since some of their compensation is on the line.

Capabilities

One of the primary reasons to hire a consultant is that they have the necessary skills and/or expertise to perform the software implementation that you may not already have in-house.  Beyond the skills that they bring to the table, a consultant should also bring some other benefits to make a strong business case for hiring them.  Your consultant should bring the necessary tools, techniques, and methodologies to the table that their consultancy uses and which you don’t have.  This may be as simple as them showing up with their own laptops and software licenses that you don’t need to pay for, or them having the necessary data gathering systems to pull in all the info you need for your new sustainability software platform. 

As consultants, you are also expecting them to bring prior experience to the table.  Whether or not they’ve worked on a project exactly like what you are asking them to perform, you should be able to get veteran individual consultants and/or teams of consultants to come help you out.  And by teams, we don’t mean the kind where the senior partner sells the deal and then you don’t see him again except when he stops by infrequently to check on the team of freshly minted MBA’s that he’s actually assigned to your project.  We mean the kind of team where your senior (and junior) consultants are actively engaged on a daily basis to help you get the project done quickly and effectively – i.e. on time and on budget.

In addition to experience, your consultant may be able to offer a cost advantage, especially if their firm is already doing business with you and you can get any sort of bulk discount.  The discount opportunity may extend to software and/or hardware purchases as well since they may be able to aggregate purchases across multiple clients.  This discount opportunity may also arise if you are able to hire your software vendor as the implementation consultant.  While this may raise some concerns about “the fox guarding the hen house”, it may help keep your costs down. 

Confidence

There’s an old adage in the software industry: “No one ever got fired for hiring IBM.”  While this is generally an explanation of why you should hire a bigger firm over a smaller firm, it also illustrates the importance of having confidence in your choice.  Regardless of whether you feel the need for a big firm with vast resources, or if you prefer a smaller firm that provides a more personalized experience, the most important factor for you is that you find a good consultant that you can trust.  They should have a proven track record, have a solid network of resources they can draw on (regardless of whether they are internal or external to the consulting firm), and be able to instill the necessary confidence in you that they will deliver.  If they can’t do that, then you shouldn’t hire them.  If they’re the best solution to your need however, then by all means, hire away!

Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.

6 Reasons Your Sustainability Innovation Is Failing

The SSC Team March 24, 2015 Tags: , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

In 2013, Jennifer Woofter wrote an article for Environmental Leader that highlighted some ways your sustainability innovation might be failing. We thought that the article was worth another share. Enjoy!

For the last few weeks, I’ve been participating in Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizationsa course by David A. Owens of Vanderbilt University. It’s a Coursera class, which means that it’s free and open to the public — and it’s huge (with tens of thousands of students “in attendance”). I’m fascinated by the topic of strategic innovation, and naturally want to apply the concepts to my own field of study: sustainability.

And here is the question I’m wrestling with: why is innovation not getting us closer to global sustainability? Climate change, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss—for all the brilliant advances in “green” processes, products, and services, we’re still losing the battle.

But why? Or at least, why is it taking so long?

In particular, I find Owen’s analysis of common innovation hurdles to be a great aid to my quest to understand why current innovation efforts don’t seem to be making a significant dent in our global sustainability problems.

Owen argues that hurdles to innovation can come from six different places. I’ve listed them below, along with my own comments about how they apply specifically to sustainability challenges.

Individuals Don’t Have the Mindset

Are individuals regularly challenged to think differently and challenge assumptions? This holds true for corporate employees, government drones, and stay-at-home moms. How often do any of us really stop and think about why we are doing the things that we’re doing, how they might be done differently, and our role in the larger “system”. Without an innovation mindset at the individual level, we’ll never come up with enough ideas to throw into the mix.

Example: The “average” employees. For most of us, life in the American workforce isn’t a hotbed of sustainability innovation. We get our jobs done, hope for a promotion, and struggle to maintain work/life balance. Rarely do we really wrestle with how to creatively disrupt our daily tasks with sustainable innovation.

The Group’s Culture Doesn’t Support Risk

Maybe individuals have great ideas, but the ideas are killed while still “tiny sweet things” because they are deemed too risky, too expensive, too disruptive, or just too crazy. It might be the boss crushing your dream, or simply a group culture that doesn’t encourage exploring bold new ideas.

Example: The last time your Green Team took a “great idea” to your boss, only to have it shut down because it was too expensive or time consuming. (But definitely go ahead with those cute stickers reminding people to turn off their lights!)

Your Organization Isn’t Structured to Move Ideas through to Production

Even if an innovative idea gets internal group support, the organization (company, government, household, or community) may hold it back. In a company, this is often because there is no clear path for moving an idea through the corporate hierarchy, and the brilliant innovative idea flounders in no-man’s land.

Example: You’ve got an idea to shift your manufacturing plant over to renewable energy using an awesome new program offered by your utility company. But you’re a middle manager, and no one can decide who “owns” the process—facilities, finance, production, or legal—so your idea sits in limbo until the new program’s funds expire.

The Market Doesn’t See Value in Your Innovation

The idea is solid, and the sustainability benefits are tremendous. There’s just one problem: no one wants to adopt your innovation. If you can’t get your innovation diffused through society (or your customer base), your brilliant idea won’t get the traction it needs to scale.

Example: Loud snack food packaging. Need I say more? 

Society Doesn’t Accept Your Idea as Legitimate

The common example given about “societal illegitimacy” is human cloning: a fascinating innovation, but not particularly ethical (or so say the UN and various other governing bodies). The key concept here is that innovation must be seen as palatable — if not to the masses, then at least to the target audience you seek to change.

Example: I love the Zero Waste Home. This is a family that has radically shifted their lifestyle so that they generate zero waste. EVERY aspect of their lives aligns with this principle (they don’t even have a garbage can, just a tiny recycling box for the curb!). Now, this is certainly innovative, but I think we can agree that (at least for 99.99% of society) this is not a palatable lifestyle. 

The Technology Isn’t There

Even if everything else is in alignment, we often need technology to help us achieve the innovation. The technology must be available and feasible, meaning it can’t be too complex, too expensive, or too restricted to use in practical applications.

Example: Space solar power. It is definitely innovative, but the cost of the technology prevents it from being a realistic solution to today’s reliance on fossil fuels.

In many cases, there will be a combination of innovation obstacles preventing us from moving closer to sustainability. Sadly, these aren’t simple solutions to solve. (Just try building and deploying a space solar power array.) So where does that leave us?

Three thoughts come to mind:

First, if you are an individual employee with a great sustainability idea, it can be helpful (for your mental health, if nothing else) to preemptively identify where you are likely to hit a roadblock.

Second, if you are an organization looking for great sustainability ideas that will reduce your environmental impacts and save you boatloads of money, don’t just expect employees to come up with great ideas. Make sure you create an atmosphere that embraces risk (or at least enjoys exploring bold ideas), as well as delineates a clear path to help get those bold ideas into practice.

Third, take the time to understand your stakeholder preferences. Will your customers buy in? Is it legitimate and palatable to your target audience? What assumptions are you making, and how can you test them before launching into full scale innovation production.

The intersection of innovation and sustainability is a hot topic these days, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you think is the biggest obstacle to sustainable innovation in today’s world? Leave a comment or join in the conversation on Twitter!